Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Natural gem in Clearwater County

The Butte Hill north of Caroline is a well known local landmark. It stands in stark contrast to the surrounding flat landscape, reminding one of an island rising from the sea, rather than a hill. As it turns out, the landscape is flat for a very good reason: It was formed by swirling floodwater, carrying with it rocks, gravel, sand and clay that filled up valleys and gouged out the sides of hills to form a near perfect flat area stretching for several kilometers and leaving behind acres and acres of fertile river flat. This is all visible from the Arbutus Road, running north from Caroline, and swinging around the base of Butte Hill.
What is not visible from that road is a natural gem called the Chedderville Natural Area that encloses the Clearwater River a short distance to the west and north of the Butte Hill. Livestock does not have access here so the natural vegetation thrives between the poplars and spruces that line the river. True to its name, the Clearwater meanders through the landscape in its rocky gravel bed.
But there are telltale signs that this river is not always the peaceful subdued stream that we see in the sunlit fall landscape of 2010AD. Flood debris can be seen high up on top of the riverbanks, attesting to a wily river. And, indeed, the Clearwater showed its muscle in June of 2005, during a 100year flooding event that saw it break its banks and begin creating a new channel to the east with water flowing along the Arbutus Road north, crossing the road and flowing into the Raven River watershed.
And therein lies the explanation for the curious shape of Butte Hill. It is indeed an island in a sea of rocks, gravel and mud deposited during major floods over thousands of years. For our benefit, the Chedderville Natural Area has been preserved to show what that landscape looked like before the arrival of the Europeans. For those with access to computers, zooming in with Google Maps/satellite images provides an excellent means of finding convenient road access to this area.

No comments: